Doom Eternal preview: first impressions of the gory shooter

Doom Eternal is the next installment in the action-packed first-person shooter series. Here are our hands-on impressions...

Mars is in bad shape and the humans stationed there are crippling under an overwhelming demonic invasion force. Hell’s plan? To blow up Mars’ core, a catastrophic event that will likely be the end of Earth, too. The soldiers scrambling in a space station above the doomed planet are in a panic. All seems lost… until the Doom Slayer puts on his helmet and grabs a gun. 

All hell breaks loose in Doom Eternal, the sequel to 2016’s Doom reboot, and this time developer id Software is unleashing true pandemonium on the player. Thankfully, the faceless, bloodthirsty “hero” of this saga has some new tricks and toys to play with. 

Den Of Geek US spent an hour with the game at E3 2019, blasting through its almost dizzying gauntlet of demons. But “blasting” implies it was only shooting. In Doom Eternal, you can also chainsaw demons in half, burn them to a crisp, and rip them apart with your hands, little bits of rotten meat and blood gushing onto the screen. Like its predecessor, this new instalment is a violent spectacle that shooter fans with strong stomachs will absolutely delight in. The game is not without its minor hiccups at the moment, but as a whole, it might turn out to be one of the best first-person shooters that id has ever produced.

While Doom Eternal executive producer Marty Stratton and creative director Hugo Martin stressed that the game isn’t a cinematic experience, slightly more focus has been put on the Doom Slayer’s characterization. He’s still a faceless killing machine, but it’s fun to watch the humans react to him, silently watching in horror as the Doom Slayer walks among them. A guard tries to stop the Slayer from opening the blast doors into the fight outside, but quickly changes his tone when he realizes who he’s talking to. It’s nice little touches like this that make the character feel larger than life, even if there’s not much more to him than that.

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Humans and demons alike have a reason to be afraid of the Doom Slayer, who feels more powerful than ever before. id has made tweaks to both combat and especially traversal that make the gameplay feel faster and tighter than ever before. The Super Shotgun with the meat hook mod is a big, new addition to the Slayer’s arsenal that allows you to hook on to an enemy and quickly zip to them. The meaty and cracking sound of exploding flesh and bone as you unload a double-barrel shotgun blast in a demon’s face is truly exquisite. Sound effects, in general, feel weighty and realistic. It’s hard not to cringe at some of the more extreme moments.

The game wants you to keep moving forward at all times, from room to room, but also to think quickly on your feet. As such, resource management is a much bigger factor in the sequel. Different killing methods earn you different resources you need to continue your murdering rampage. An execution earns you health, a chainsaw kill gets you ammo, and using the flamethrower mounted on your shoulder to burn your demonic enemies rewards you with armour. Picking the right attack could mean the difference between life and death during a hectic firefight.

Success in Doom Eternal is all about hitting the right rhythm between the different attacks and moving around the map. Platforming sections add a new challenge to the action as well as the game’s major wrinkle at the moment. While jumping from platform to platform works just fine, especially once you can use your Super Shotgun to get around, the new wall climbing mechanic leaves a bit to be desired.

You can grab on to specific walls by clicking the right stick on your controller, which also happens to be the melee button. More often than not during the demo, I’d jump and dash towards a wall and melee instead of grabbing on, even though I was just inches away from said wall. This became particularly annoying during the tail end of the demo when I had to traverse quite a few floating platforms. The good news is that id is already tweaking the wall climbing mechanic, adjusting the distance you have to be from a wall before grabbing onto it, according to Stratton. 

Besides the frustrating platforming section, the demo comprised of a mix of long hallways, cramped rooms full of enemies, and wide open areas, all posing their own unique challenges. Smaller areas force you to get up close and personal with the demons while also dodging a series of tentacles that sprout from the floors to take a shot at you. Getting hit by one of these tentacles when you’re not in a fight is a minor annoyance, but having to navigate down a hallway full of enemies while also keeping track of where these tentacle traps are shows just how more aware of your surroundings you have to be in Doom Eternal. You can still run in guns blazing, but you have to be a little smarter about it.

The demo ends in a wide open area in which you can put your new skills to the test against an array of enemies. Doom Eternal brings back a few franchise favourites, such as the Pain Elemental, Arachnocron, and zombies, as well as enemies from the last game. They’re all a ton of fun to fight, especially with the new “Destructible Demons” systems, which sees a demon’s body break down as it takes damage, big meaty chunks coming off enemies like the Mancubus as you plug away at them. 

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The final area featured wave after wave of demons, and I had to use every weapon and skill at my disposal to survive the fight. It’s here where I started to really get a feel for the rhythm of gameplay, timing my attacks to fulfill the resources I needed at any given second (very often health because that depletes at an alarming rate, especially when surrounded by monsters) while zipping back and forth and away from the powerful Hell Knights with my Super Shotgun. When it all begins to click, you really start to feel unstoppable.

Stratton and Martin told me in an interview after my demo that Doom Eternal is meant to be a surprising experience all the way to the final minute of the game. id’s goal is to continuously introduce new gameplay elements, whether it be a new weapon or mod or type of enemy, to keep players on their toes and force them to adapt to new challenges. So, while I felt like a badass after clearing the final area of all enemies, I’m sure that just beyond the next portal into parts unknown there was something waiting to knock me down a few pegs. I can’t wait to reload my shotgun and meet it head-on in the fall. 

Doom Eternal arrives on 22 November for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia and PC.